Rethinking that Romantic Valentine’s Bouquet
If you want to honor your eco-sweetheart on Feb. 14, stay away from the cut flowers at the supermarket or warehouse store. Yes, you get a bigger bouquet of flowers, but you also buy an assortment of environmental no-no’s that just might diminish the wholesome sentiment.
Here are some of the reasons to shop either at a local Farmer’s Market or perhaps to plan a romantic excursion to a flower farm in Sonoma County or the Sierra foothills:
Shipping flowers from overseas to the US incurs huge transportation, energy, refrigeration, and storage costs, and thus creates an enormous carbon footprint. Foreign floral materials may carry residue of chemical pesticides or fungicides. (Almost 80% of fresh flowers sold in the United States are grown in Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Israel.)
Perhaps the strongest environmental argument against imported flowers is the widespread use of toxic chemicals used to boost plant productivity. Obviously, demand for flowers ebbs and flows; demand is at its peak on holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Many foreign growers douse their flowers with a toxic cocktail of fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides to keep disease and pests at bay. Twenty percent of those chemicals are restricted in the US or Europe, according to a 2007 study, and unprotected workers end up with an array of health effects, ranging from respiratory distress to higher rates of miscarriage to neurological impairment.
Meanwhile, local farmers who are members of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ascfg.org) strive to produce their flowers using responsible farming methods such as integrated pest management, diverse cropping systems, and low-input fertilization programs. Their farms encourage important biodiversity, soil health, and water conservation. There is a search feature on the ASCFG website, so you can check out the closest facilities.
Locally-grown flowers can be cut in the morning and on your dining room table that evening. Imported flowers often are cut a week or more before they arrive here, so quality and vase life decline. Many commodity-type flowers have been bred for uniformity to fit into a box, and the stem strength to hold up in that box for long-distance travel, usually losing their natural fragrance in the process.
The production and sale of locally-grown cut flowers contribute to a community’s economy, and provides employment and valuable agriculture experience to young people.
If you are determined to buy that big bouquet in a supermarket or discount store, at least read the label. In 1996, Colombia set up a "Florverde" (Greenflower) brand with high environmental and social (worker benefits) standards. Twenty percent of Colombia’s U.S.-bound blooms – available at many of the big chains – are Florverde-certified, meaning stringent standards are verified by annual independent inspections. Similar "Sustainable-," "Fair Trade-" and "Organic-" branded bouquets are increasingly available at mega-retailers and florists in the U.S., although international "organic" brands often have laxer guidelines than those in the U.S., authorizing less, but not zero, pesticide use.